The 10th race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season takes us to the biggest, baddest track on the planet – Talladega Superspeedway.
Between four-wide racing on a 2.66-mile monster of a track and some of the most spectacular wrecks ever seen, Talladega races are annually the most anticipated events of the season by NASCAR fans.
At the Las Vegas sports books, you can expect to see odds reflected on the race to show more parity than any other type of track, except for maybe Daytona, the other restrictor-plate track. These types of races are crap shoots.
Last week at Richmond, Kyle Busch was 9-to-2. This week, he’s 12-to-1. There are no single-digit favorites, at least at respectable books, because no driver can be pegged as the true favorite.
You can search through all the stats and data you want on a driver for this race to try and find the winner, but throwing darts and picking a number out of a hat is a system that is just as good. It really is a tough process.
Not only do you have the volatile nature of the track that can wipe out your driver unexpectedly, but you’ve also got about 35 other drivers that are capable of winning the race. On a normal race weekend, like say at Richmond last week, there are maybe only 15 drivers that have a chance at winning. This makes it harder than any other race to pick the winner, which is why the books offer such fair odds on all the drivers.
It might seem like a good spot to not wager at all. Because there are so many variables against you as bettor, this could be spot to just watch the race for fun. But usually, the fun of watching the race is having action on a couple drivers.
And betting at Talladega can actually be more thrilling than other tracks, even in losses, because of never being out of the race unless your car is being hauled out on a tow truck.
Your driver can be sitting 30th, but with five laps to go, he comes charging to front. Four laps to go and he’s in 20th. Three laps to go and he’s in 12th. Two laps to go and now among the leaders. When the white flag drops signaling one lap to go, you’re sitting on the edge of your seat hoping that your driver can make that winning move.
Based on the way the Gen-6 cars ran in the Daytona 500, the sequence of events that unfold may not be as dramatic as past Talladega races – like described above. We saw 28 lead changes among 14 drivers at Daytona, but I came away feeling bored.
Even though the stats show 14 different leaders at Daytona, I don’t remember it that way. I remember thinking it was the worst type of racing at Daytona I’ve seen since NASCAR implemented the restrictor-plates. Drivers were forced into playing follow the leader in one big long line because their cars got too loose on their own. Drivers could no longer make a power move to pass.
Jimmie Johnson went on to win the Daytona 500, leading the final nine laps, which further illustrates how much has changed with these new cars. In the past, the driver leading at the white flag rarely wins the race. Johnson led the final nine laps, come on now?
So the best wagering strategy this week, besides throwing darts, may be to try and identify a few drivers that might be able to lead a lot of laps.
The first driver to look at is Matt Kenseth who led four times for a race high 86 laps in the Daytona 500. His engine expired with 51 laps to go, but he was a driver that looked the best in all the pre-season testing at Daytona and was also fast during the qualifying Duels and Shootout. He captured his first Talladega win last fall and finished third in the spring while driving for Roush Racing.
A driver that was even better than Kenseth in the Duels and Shootout was Kevin Harvick, who won both of those events. He was involved in an accident at Daytona that relegated him to a 42nd-place finish, but he is widely regarded as one of the best plate racers in NASCAR. He won at Talladega in 2010 and the team has a lot of momentum coming off their big win at Richmond.
Brad Keselwoski won his first career race at Talladega in 2009 while driving an under-funded car for James Finch. He backed that up by winning at Talladega again last spring. He finished fourth at Daytona, leading four times for 13 laps.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was runner-up at Daytona and has always been considered one of the best at Daytona and Talladega. He’s a five-time winner at Talladega, but the last one came in 2004. His best finish there since then was finishing runner-up to Keselowski in 2009. That was the race where Carl Edwards slammed into the catch fence, upside down, following the final turn.
If picking a number out of a hat this week, I would feel lucky if I were to grab to No. 24. Jeff Gordon led 31 laps at Daytona and because of having a tough season thus far, this looks like a race that has his name written all over it. He’s got more plate wins than anyone in NASCAR history and has won at Talladega six times.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].